With 15 delegates traveling to Rikuzentakata in June, some local controversy has erupted on social media as to the appropriateness of using city funds to send four delegates to Rikuzentakata, Japan for tsunami-related training and a ceremony to sign the sister city agreement there.
Mayor Blake Inscore was on vacation in Boston this week and said he had heard about the issue, and said the council’s action was done in public and above-board.
“If people disagree with something we’re doing, they should come to the meetings and not respond after the fact on Facebook,” he said. “If you disagree, maybe you can change the minds of three council members.”
Inscore said he strongly believes the sister city relationship will have many benefits to Crescent City, not only in disaster planning, but in friendship.
However, not all of the delegates are being paid for with city travel funds, and the $12,000 cost pales in comparison to what Rikuzentakata has spent on the sister city relationship to date.
From the city
At the last regular meeting May 7, the City Council voted 4-0, with Councilor Jason Greenough absent, to spend $12,000 to send four city ambassadors to Rikuzentakata for training and to take part in Rikuzentakata’s sister city signing ceremony.
Inscore, Council member and Fire Battalion Chief Darrin Short, City Manager Eric Wier, and Finance Director Linda Leaver, for $3,000 each.
From the county
Three county delegates, Supervisor Chair Chris Howard, Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven, and Health and Human Services Director Heather Snow are going to Rikuzentakata and paying for the trip from the board’s travel and training budget. County Counsel Elizabeth Cable was to go, but has since declined citing a scheduling conflict.
Exact allocations are not yet known, as each county department head determines the amount to be used.
However, the round-trip cost to fly Contour Airlines to Oakland is $138 and the round trip United Airlines flight to Tokyo is $2,125. Travel connections between Oakland and San Francisco Airport were estimated at $60. The rail pass from Tokyo costs $184. Delegates will need to pay for one night of lodging in Tokyo June 22, estimated at about $100. The connection to Narita is estimated at $30 and meals en route are expected to cost around $80 total.
The total travel cost was estimated at $2,717 with Rikuzentakata covering meals and lodging for delegates while there.
The County Supervisors budget sets aside $35,000 for travel and training, $23,789 was used last year, leaving $11,210.
County CAO Jay Sarina explained that city staff and the board have the annual appropriation for travel and training.
He said once the board approves each year’s budget, the funds are then available to use as each board administrator sees fit.
Howard’s expenses were approved by the board on May 8 as a consent calendar item on the day’s agenda.
Sarina said the expenditures are very typical of each department and with over 150 employees, the county has people traveling constantly.
From the school district
Del Norte High School student Samantha Fuller is the president of the Japan Club but is also the student trustee on the school’s board. Colleen Parker was the principal when the sister school effort began and was deemed best to represent the district. DNCUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris said the County Office of Education, not the school district, provided the funding for the airfare and train pass for Fuller and Parker.
On their own dime
Robyn Parker, a teacher at Sunset High School, is paying her own way on the trip and is not representing the school district or the county, Harris said.
Lenea Inscore, Annette Short and Lisa Howard are also paying their own way.
... and finally
The nonprofit California Redwoods Art Association allocated $2,717 so that Nancy Sander could attend and document the sister city signing ceremony.
What they’ve spent
City Manager Eric Wier said the dollar amounts have not been tallied to determine how much the City of Rikuzentakata has spent hosting Crescent City delegates to date. He estimated that the two previous trips transported, housed and fed 16 people for several days. Travel costs alone, at an estimated $2,500 per person, come to $40,000.
“I’d say the total they have spent to have us there well exceeds $50,000,” he said.
Inscore, who was in Boston on vacation this week, said the Japanese delegation of 20 people paid for their travel to Crescent City for the April 16 ceremony, but their local travel and lodging was paid for using grant funding. Another $2,500 grant paid for the ceremony in the Cultural Center, he said.